Tag Archive: Auguste Comte


Auguste Comte.

Clotilde de Vaux.

Auguste Comte survives Clotilde de Vaux by eleven years.  He publishes Le Catechisme positiviste and La Synthese objective ou Systeme universel des conceptions propres a l’etat normal de l’Humanite, which are the bases of a new religion, of which Aldous Huxley will say:

“It’s catholicism, minus christianism.”

He prepares the organisation of the temples, the positivist sacraments, the discipline particular to the faithful, the particular devotions for the “holy figures” of women, those of Clotilde, her mother and her female servant.  The New Religion of Humanity has for essential motto:  “Love for principle, Order for base, Progress for goal.”  In Paris, the “Very Holy Metropolis”, will be raised the first sanctuary of positivism, Rue Payenne, in the house where Clotilde died.

Auguste Comte dies in 1857, having fixed for the next ten years the atheist masses and the solemnities of Clotilde’s cult, the whole liturgic ensemble of a religion without God which must, according to his illuminated wish, conquer the West and make human consciousness enter into the age of progress.

He had prepared this posthumous triumph for the year 1867, the date at which must be published the “sacred correspondance”.  But, in 1867, Paris is not celebrating the positivist New Religion of Humanity.  Paris is celebrating the Universal Exhibition and the music of Offenbach.

In his Will, Auguste Comte expresses the wish to be united in the grave with his cherished Clotilde.  The family of the young woman, who has never accepted the philosopher, opposes this.  Seventy-five years after the death of August Comte, his disciples at last obtain the transfer of Clotilde’s remains into the grave of the pontiff of Humanity, at the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery.  Alas, the Virgin Mother’s tomb not being waterproof, only a bit of mud, “a silt froth”, according to the police report, is found.

Their bodies never embraced.  Their bones never mingled.

***

This last part of Auguste Comte’s life is not very well-known.  The encyclopaedias and big dictionaries give a large place to the philosopher Auguste Comte, who prepares contemporary materialism.  But they are discrete on the transfiguration of Clotilde into the Virgin Mother of Humanity through crazy love, and on Auguste Comte, the high priest of a new religion.

Emile Littre (the author of the famous dictionary of the French language, an atheist, Free Mason, and friend of Auguste Comte) puts a certain distance between himself and the philosopher when he goes into his amorous and mystical phase.  He writes, about the meeting with Clotilde:

“From then on, this phase took on a determined character, and it stamped the seal of sentiment on the conception that he was elaborating.”

Which could be a respectful way of saying that Auguste Comte has gone mad.

When he goes for the first time to the home of Clotilde de Vaux’ parents, he is suffering from nervous troubles, insomnias, melancholy, oppressions, general weakness.  He is exhausted by his enormous works.  But it must also be said that, in 1826, (at the age of twenty-eight), shortly after his marriage with a former prostitute, he tries to commit suicide.  He spends ten months interned in Doctor Esquirol’s clinic.  He has delusions of persecution and of grandeur, followed by melancholic depression.  His mother, who is very religious, takes advantage of this to have the religious marriage of her son celebrated by Abbot Lamennais, who has not yet become famous.

[In France, the State is completely separated from Religion.  A person who wants to marry, must have a civil ceremony – usually at the Mairie (town hall) – for it to be legal.  The religious ceremony, if performed, is not actually called a “marriage”.  It is called a “blessing”.  It is often performed on the same day as the civil ceremony, the family going directly from the town hall to the place of worship, but not always.  A religious ceremony can be performed at any time after the legal civil ceremony, but it can’t be performed before it.]

Is this a return of his mental disorders?  Perhaps.  But he shows, in his mental construction, a firmness, a constancy, a systemic spirit which is quite extraordinary.  He detaches himself from the idea of death, of mortality.  While bizarre, this is also lucid.  It can even be said that he exploits what could be called madness, precisely to escape madness.  Andre Therive, who has studied Auguste Comte’s last years, says:

“For, in the end, these methodical exercises of prayer and meditation, his systematic construction of a completely human deity, of an entirely interior transcendance, are perhaps the absurd games of a wandering mind, but they are also a sure way to stay calm, to keep the rudder well in hand in the middle of storms, where many others would have sunk.”

***

Temples of the positivist religion exist Rue Payenne, where Clotilde lived, and Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, where Auguste Comte lived.  A few disciples still celebrate the cult of Clotilde, the Virgin Mother of Humanity, there.  There are around ten positivist temples in the world.  According to Auguste Comte, the West should have two thousand, four hundred of them in France.  For each one, seven priests and three assistants, chosen by an examination (like at the Polytechnique).  The clergy should count twenty thousand Western philosophers.

Announcement of the death of Miguel Lemos, the founder of the Positivist Church of Brazil.

Curiously, it is in Brazil that the religion of Humanity dreamed by Auguste Comte has known its triumph, with a strong number of faithful.  In Rio, there is a great temple of positivism.  And the Brazilian flag is the positivist emblem conceived by Auguste Comte.  A green flag, with the globe of the world surrounded by a ribbon which carries the Comtist words: “Order and Progress” – “Ordem e progresso”.

***

Auguste Comte founded sociology as a positivist science, and rejected the theological and metaphysical ages of human History.  But he thought that Man could not live without a religious sentiment.  He wanted to build, by the strength of his subjectivity considered as such, a sort of imitation of catholicism without the christianism, without a revealed dogma.  He invented a whole symbolism, out of his own life, so poor in love and so rich at heart.  And he wanted this symbolism to serve as a religious guide to the men of the new ages.  He made a bet that his own mental construction would be truer than reality, truer than the world.  He wanted to make immortality without a reference to God, through the power of his mind and of his feelings alone, and give Clotilde eternal life in this way, not as a real goddess, but as an image of what is the purest in Humanity.  It is perhaps delirious.  But it is a noble delirium.

Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, says of Auguste Comte that he was a

“poor man and a great mind who became mad with love.  A considerable laic thinker who became mad with holiness…”

***

In the magnificent Caodaist temple in Tay Binh, the faithful worship not only the god Cao Dai, but also Auguste Comte and Clotilde de Vaux.

Auguste Comte.

Clotilde de Vaux.

Auguste Comte’s only night with Clotilde de Vaux will be the one spent at the dying woman’s bedside, while her parents watch in the next room, furious at the philosopher’s presence.  She suffocates, there is the death rattle, and at Dawn, she murmurs to him:

“You will not have had me for companion very long.”

The next day, a scene erupts between a haggard Auguste Comte and Clotilde’s parents, supported by her brother, a Comte disciple, who loses his temper with his master.  Auguste Comte wants to forbid the family to enter “this sacred home”.  He demands to be left alone with the dying Clotilde:

“Your sister belongs to me, to Humanity!”

He is uplifted by a mystical exaltation:

“Through me, she will be more illustrious than any other woman!”

He is ordered to leave.  He falls to his knees, sobbing.  The father asks him to go, giving him his word that he will call him back before it is too late.  He is called on Palm Sunday.  He holds the hand that is growing cold and flees without a word.

***

He decides that his love, which has not vanquished a living woman, will vanquish death.  He resolves to immortalise her, and to impose this immortality on the whole world.  He builds her a temple at the bottom of his heart.  This philosopher of Reason and Progress, for whom the mind needs to empty itself of all metaphysics, conceives the crazy ambition of placing Clotilde on the altars of a new religion.  In the eyes of the world, he is only a poor professor, unhappy in love, unconsolable about the death of a young woman who had accorded him nothing.  But, in the domains of superior realities, there will be a love greater than life, capable of raising a little literary bourgeoise who dies of tuberculosis, to the rank of supreme figure of Humanity.  Of course, for the positivist, who believes only in palpable and visible matter, the disincarnated soul of Clotilde has no objective reality.  But it will have a subjective surreality:  Clotilde will live eternally, upheld by a philosopher’s powerful brain, and men will worship in Clotilde, the mental construction raised by Auguste Comte to the memory of a being who is identified with the Being of the whole of Humanity.

There is something desperate, absurd, sublime and deeply touching here.

***

The Temple of the Religion of Humanity still exists at 5 rue Payenne, in Paris. Clotilde died in this house in 1846.

On Good Friday 1846, the year of Clotilde’s death, he organises the sanctuary and the ritual.  The sanctuary:  the red armchair in which she had sat, surrounded by her relics:  bouquets of dried flowers, letters, gloves, handkerchief.  The ritual…  kneeling, acts of faith, meditations, re-lecture of the correspondance.

Morning prayer must take place from half past five to half past six, on the knees, before Clotilde’s altar.  The believer begins by saying these words:

“It is better to love than to be loved.  The only real thing in the world is to love.”

A special commemoration of fifteen minutes follows.  Then comes a general commemoration of twenty minutes.  The priest, Auguste Comte, passes in review all his souvenirs.  He evokes fragments of his correspondance with Clotilde, in chronological order:

He:   “My direct flight of Universal Love is accomplished with the continual stimulation of our pure attachment.”

She:  “This is my life’s plan:  affection and thought.”

He:   “Let us love each other deeply, each in his own way, and we will still be able to be truly happy one through the other.”

She :  “You are the best of men, you have been for me an incomparable friend and I am honoured as much as I am happy by your attachment.”

He:   “It is therefore only to you, my Clotilde, that I will owe not leaving this life without having worthily felt the best of human nature’s emotions.”

She:  “I am not beautiful, I have only a little expression”, etc.

In Viet-Nam, the Caodaists, who had already made Victor Hugo (in the bicorn) a god, have placed Auguste Comte in their Pantheon.

The officiant then kneels for twenty minutes before Clotilde’s flowers, and says:

“Dead or alive, my saint, you must always remain the centre of the second life for which I am essentially in your debt.  Your painful transformation from a sad existence to a glorious eternity must never alter the motto that I have had you approve:  ‘Eternal love and respect’.”

There are other prayers which must be said standing, near the altar.  Here are a few lines:

“Universal Love, assisted by demonstrable Faith directs pacific activity.”

“Goodbye my chaste eternal companion!  Goodbye my beloved!  Goodbye my cherished pupil!…”

The conclusion is pronounced kneeling, the relics once more covered.  Then, in an oration, the priest venerates the three highest figures of salvational Femininity:  Clotilde;  her elderly mother Rosalie (who has never liked him much, and, a fervent Catholic, holds his thoughts to be heretical); and her servant, an indifferent, decent woman, whom he wants to consider as his own daughter.  The three saints of his religion:  a fantomatic spouse, a not very maternal mother, a servant transfigured into an adopted daughter.

There is a prayer that the officiant must say seated in his bed, then a prayer lying down.  There is a prayer for the middle of the day, another which is said while kissing a lock of Clotilde’s hair.  The final oration ends with these heartrending words:

“Bad people are often more in need of pity than the good.”

***

From then on, he lives like a priest.  On 11 February 1852, he proclaims the apotheosis:  the identification of Clotilde with the myth of the Virgin Mother of Humanity.  He has finished one of his great works:  La Politique positive, preceded by this solemn dedication:

“To the holy memory of my eternal friend, Clotilde de Vaux, who died before my eyes on 5 April 1846, at the beginning of her thirty-second year.  Goodbye, my holy Clotilde, you who were for me a wife, a sister and a daughter!  Your angelic inspiration will dominate all the rest of my life and preside my unending perfectionment, by purifying my sentiments, increasing my thoughts, and ennobling my behaviour.  May this solemn assimilation to the whole of my existence worthily reveal your still unknown superiority!  As the principal reward for the noble works which I am still to accomplish through your powerful invocation, I shall perhaps obtain that your name becomes inseparable from mine in the most distant memories of grateful Humanity.”

To be continued.

Auguste Comte founded a religion to immortalise the woman he had loved.

This philosopher’s theoretic work had considerable influence on the future of ideas.  He was struck by love late in life, and, after having brought to the world the first scientific and materialist conception of human history, became the priest of a new religion, in memory of his beloved.  This French philosopher, whose ambition was to abolish the metaphysical mentality, was transformed into a high priest by devouring love.

***

Auguste Comte introduced a new word into the French language:  l’altruisme.  He invented a science and gave it a name:  sociology.  He founded a philosophy:  positivism.

Contemporary egalitarianism comes from altruism.  Sociology today dominates the human sciences.  Positivism has engendered modern materialism.

The fundamental idea of this Polytechnician is that new habits must be given to intelligence, because of the state of the sciences.  A science of social phenomena must be founded from the objective concepts of mathematical analysis.  Humanity has known three states:  the theological state, where the divine powers are used by Man as principles of explanation and action;  the metaphysical state, where the divine powers are replaced by impersonal and abstract forces.  We are entering into the positive state.

He publishes his famous Cours de philosophie positive while teaching Astronomy for seventeen years to un-registered students, at the Mairie du IIIe arrondissement.  He lives with difficulty from his tutorial functions at l’Ecole polytechnique, where his teaching is admirable.  Guizot refuses him a Chair in History of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the College de France, because of his Republican opinions.  For the same reason, he is refused the Chair of Geometry at the Polytechnique.  He is forty-seven.  He is poor.  He lives alone, separated from his wife after a disastrous conjugal life.  Having lost his post of Examiner at the Polytechnique, he is without resources.  John Stuart Mill and a few rich English intellectuals support him.  Then, Emile Littre adheres to his ideas and opens a subscription to help him.  It is at this epoch that he makes the acquaintance of the sister of one of his disciples, Clotilde de Vaux.

***

Clotilde de Vaux is the young woman whom Auguste Comte will turn into the Virgin Mother of Humanity.

She is thirty-one.  She is slim and pale, of a cold beauty.  She lives both in her own apartment, Rue Payenne, and in that of her parents, which is almost next-door.  Her husband has left her, after a few swindles.  She has never known love, and has no child.  She writes little novels, the kind of which Hugo would say:

“She would do better to knit herself something.”

Auguste Comte visits her family.

Clotilde’s mother finds that he is acting rather strangely of late, and asks her daughter if he is courting her.  Clotilde denies that he is.

As a matter of fact, he isn’t really courting her.  He talks about philosophy with her, of quibblers and pedants, occasionally declaring to her that he doesn’t know what would become of him, if he couldn’t see her any more.

However, he starts to become pressing, signing notes :  “Your devoted spouse.”  She answers with cold kindness:  “You have the heart of a knight, my excellent philosopher.”  Or:  “In the hours of suffering, your image floats before me.”  And she calls him “My tender father”.

He dreams of receiving her in his shabby lodgement.  Will he take her in his arms?

“My organization has received from a tender mother certain intimate cords, eminently feminine, which have not yet been able to vibrate, through lack of having been appropriately caressed.  The time has at last come to develop its activity…  It is by your salutary influence, my Clotilde, that I await this estimable improvement.”

To this philosopher’s mumbo-jumbo born of congested desire, she answers:

“I would have seen you yesterday, if I hadn’t been very ill.  I do not want you to become ill or unhappy because of me.”

She comes one day at last to his home.  She sits in his red armchair.  He is arranging some papers in front of her, like a notary.  He makes the remark that they are alone, that the female servant is leaving.  He shows her the bedroom from a distance:  a sepulcral cupboard-like space at the end of the austere apartment.  She chatters about one thing and another, keeping her eyes on the folds of her gown.  He calculates the budget for a life together, adding up figures.  She speaks of her health and finds that the room is too hot. And finally, she interrupts his household calculations by telling him that, if he is her friend, he must understand that he has to wait even longer.  A few months, for example, to give her time to get better.  Then she rushes out.

She writes to him during the night:

“Give me time.  We would expose ourselves to too many regrets now.  Be generous in everything.”

This should tell him that he does not really inspire desire in the young woman.  But he does not understand and insistently quibbles:

“The irrevocable token that I ask of you on my knees.”

Or:

“Without this token of alliance, I could not regard you as so irrevocably mine as I recognize myself to be yours.”

Or again:

“The principal knot of our exceptional situation.”

And these heavy clogs of the positivist lover:

“This unique decisive guarantee of indissolubility of our union.”

The chaste muse replies:

“Exercise your noble intelligence on yourself, and do not again try to bring me to regrettable actions (in other words:  I declare to you that I haven’t the least desire for you).”

And she politely signs:

“I am, of those obliged to you, the most grateful and the most affectionate.”

Soon, phthisis finishes by tiring her.  She can hardly walk, she breathes with difficulty, she is covered in perspiration, her pulse is galloping.  He is still begging her to give herself to him.  One day, he steals a rapid kiss from her lips.  And excuses himself with this extravagant letter:

“I should have especially felt, yesterday, that I was then affected by a gastric trouble, because of which my breath, although habitually very pure, was found to be momentarily not worthy of being mixed with yours.”

A kiss with bad breath:  the only union of the flesh.

To be continued.

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